I have fond memories of all of the beach vacations I have gone on in my life. From our trips to Virginia Beach when I was very little and trips to Ocean City (MD), Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks later on in life. I have enjoyed them all for what they were – vacations, a break from the normal run of the mill.
My favorite beach town to go to – by far – is Chincoteague, VA. Chincoteague is a pretty small town located on Chincoteague Island, between the Delmarva Peninsula and Assateague Island (where one can find the wild horses / ponies).
In no particular order, here are the things I love about Chincoteague –
- There is no boardwalk. Everytime I have gone to a beach with a boardwalk, there are too many stupid tacky souvenir shops selling all the same stuff for way too much money, food vendors selling fried everything and cops everywhere looking for drunk people. I went on vacation to get away from it all, not to visit “The Mall with Sand”
- You can bike to anywhere that you need to go on the island. You wanna get down to the beach for sunrise, but the rest of the family isn’t up yet? Just hop on your bike and in 15-20 minutes you’re there. Need to run to the store for a few things? Have a hankerin’ for some beach BBQ? Get on your bike. There is no major highway running through the town and bikes are a common appearance on the roadways – with a bike lane running through most of Maddox Ave (the main street) and pedestrian / bike trails all over Assateague Island.
- If you are less of a beach person and more of an outdoors person – or just want to change it up for day – there is tons to see in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge itself. There are multiple paved trails (as mentioned above), two visitors centers and programs offered by the Refuge throughout the week (90% of which are completely FREE)
- The lighthouse – Assateague Lighthouse is located just within the Wildlife Refuge and is just a short walk away from a small parking lot. The views from the top are nothing short of amazing. Climbs to the top of this have been a part of our Chincoteague tradition for years.
- BBQ – We have been big fans of Woody’s Beach BBQ for years now – it is what got me interested in making my own BBQ over six years ago. A few years back, another place called Smokey’s (that unlike Woody’s, also offers beef) opened up just down the road. Both places are awesome and very reasonably priced.
- Memorial Park – a pretty sweet playground on the southern end of the island.
- The Museum of Chincoteague Island is a really interesting place to go on a rainy day, or when you need a change of pace.
- The seafood – at various places on the island there are roadside shacks that sell fresh seafood.
- Ice Cream – Island Creamery has some of the best ice cream I have ever had – now only if they offered chocolate-dipped cones like Sweet Things (in Lexington, VA). They have amazing fudge as well.
- Money – The real estate prices are significantly lower than places like Ocean City or The Outer Banks. You can get a decent two bedroom house to rent in Chincoteague for under $700 a week (if you book December / January the year before of course). Mid-June 2018 we found a bare bones frugal place for $1050 (all told, state sales tax of 5.3% and local occupancy tax of 6% included) for a week in mid-August.
- Distance – its only about 20-30 minutes further than Ocean City (from Pittsburgh of course) and if you avoid the Bay Bridge, you can actually make it down there in under 7 hours driving time. Ocean City is really the only beach closer to Pittsburgh. I mean unless you want to overpay and crowd into some of the NJ beaches, but I’m not convinced that one could get to those quicker either.
- Hot Sauce Shop – around the corner from the grocery store is a pretty cool hot sauce shop.
- It’s not all just houses, there are hotels and cottages as well. You find pretty much any type of beach house that you might think of, if you look hard enough. Friends of mine rented out this place for their wedding a few years back.
- It’s never crowded. Sure it’s a small island, but as such, it can only really hold so many people, and there is really nowhere else close to stay that people would be visiting Assateague, so it is always reasonable. (Note: I have never been there for Pony Penning week, but I heard its absolute mayhem – 10,000 people on the island, rents go up 50%)
- It doesn’t feel like a beach town in parts – one year we stayed in the Piney Island area – you would think you are staying in a cabin in the woods. When you get into the southern end of the island – you would think you are in a fishing town in New England; there are various flavors to Chincoteague.
- If a round of mini golf is part of your vacation tradition – there are two places for golf across the street from one another, Funland definitely has more things to do (climbing wall, bungee launch, go karts, bumper boats, etc.)
- Boats! Whether taking a pontoon boat tour to see some wildlife in the channel, a fishing trip, or taking kayaks out – there are multiple fairly priced opportunities to take out boats, as well as public boat launches if you bring your own.
Chincoteague has been our family beach destination of choice for the last 8 years, long before we ever decided to pursue a financially intentional lifestyle. We loved how it allowed us to get back to nature and avoid the crowds if we wanted to, but still had many of the “amenities” of larger beach towns, but for a fraction of the cost.
What is your favorite beach vacation destination? If not a beach, where do you go for a break from the normal? Let us know in the comments!